Homer Simpson, the beloved schlub-next-door, once said, “You don’t win friends with salad,” and he has a point: a plate of flabby iceberg lettuce, hard orange tomatoes and dirty-looking carrot shreds is not going to unite folks in savory ecstasy. But take a moment to visualize the salads on the menu at some of your favorite eateries: unlike the uninspired, so-called rabbit food of yore, they’re laden with tasty goodies like cheese, nuts, fruit, and sometimes even “mmmmm, bacon,” in Homer parlance. Indeed, one of the best things about salad is there are so many of them—there really is a salad for everyone, and Plymouth has them all. So get with it—your salad days are hardly bygone; they are happening now. Here are a bunch that Homer himself would eat with glee.
Field greens— a catch-all term for random, not-iceberg lettuces—form the basis of many a fancy salad, like the Dine-o-Mite at Lucky’s 13 (why the salad is named after a line from a 1970s TV sitcom is beyond us; maybe because it explodes with flavor). The mixed greens make a fine bed for generous amounts of tasty morsels like grilled chicken, roasted cashews, wild rice, cucumber, craisins, and granny smith apples. These disparate flavors and textures— nutty rice, aqueous cukes, sweet craisins and tart apples—demand a bold dressing to match. The eatery’s tangy apple-Dijon mustard vinaigrette is it, deftly pulling it all together with sass. $12.49.
3000 Harbor Lane N.
STRAWBERRY FETA SALAD
Even cowboys like a nice salad now and again. The strawberry feta salad at Cowboy Jack’s seems anything but macho, but underneath the frilly lettuce and sweet berries lies a powerhouse of taste and nutrition. Crumbled feta cheese adds a gloriously salty punch and slivered almonds amp up the crunch factor. Sliced strawberries are so pretty next to the pale green cucumbers, but they’re also ferociously rich in the all-important antioxidant vitamin-C. Fat free raspberry vinaigrette, on the side, is gratifyingly sweet, even though it sounds suspiciously like diet food. Add protein: Amish chicken, steak or salmon for three, five and five, dollars respectively. We opt for salmon; it’s such a nice pink color. $11. 4120 Berkshire Lane N; 763.559.0257
CHICKEN CHOP SALAD
Jake's City Grill
Chopped salads are a neat way of getting a bit of everything in a single forkful. Salads are frequent victims of cherry picking, stripped of all baubles and abandoned on the plate, a sorry wasteland of soggy greens. The chop is a cool solution since it’s nearly impossible to fish out the good stuff when it’s chopped together in tiny pieces. Jake’s kitchen smartly chose two sturdy lettuces, iceberg and romaine, to contend with a bustle of goodies in their version of the chopped salad. Diced roasted chicken, applewood smoked bacon, radicchio, tomatoes, scallions and dried cranberries are as gorgeous as a shower of confetti, and normally overwhelming flavors—bitter radicchio, salty bacon, tart cranberries—are tempered by softer ones like chicken, tomatoes and a sweet poppyseed vinaigrette. $12.95. 3005 Harbor Lane N.; 763.559.1595
GARLIC TUNA SALAD
This salad is as simple as the Jake’s chop is busy: just seared tuna with sautéed garlic on a spring mix, dressed with a basic balsamic vinaigrette. The minimalism makes perfect sense; this is a sushi joint, where the fish is still-flopping fresh and deserves to commandeer the spotlight. The salad is purely in service of Kobe’s high-grade tuna, as tender and robust as the best filet mignon. The garlic is a punctuation mark for emphasis and the greens are crisp supporters, and that’s all you need. $10. 15555 34th Ave. N.; 763.559.9999
CHICKEN COBB SALAD
The Cobb, like the Caesar, is an old-school classic that was invented by (who else?) Mr. Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood, CA. The Cobb is our go-to salad for its winning combination of textures, flavors and nutritional components. The Green Mill makes a worthy example that does not stint on ingredients. An avalanche of bleu cheese crumbles and bacon bits smother roughly chopped romaine lettuce; slices of hard-boiled egg, diced tomato, black olives, green onions and avocado crowd the scene as well. Grilled, marinated chicken breast is nicely charred and perfectly tender. Add whatever dressing you fancy; we are partial to the smoky, sweet chipotle ranch, available in regular or lite. $10.99.
2705 Annapolis Lane N.763.553.9000
THAI BEEF SALAD
Every Thai restaurant that we’ve visited has a beef salad on the menu, leading us to liken it to our Caesar salad, in other words, a popular standard. Its status needs no justification: intensely seasoned beef paired with sprightly vegetables achieve the kind of striking balance that fosters cravings and inspires rhapsodies. Ketsana’s thinly sliced seared beef, seared black on the edges and rosy in the center, crown a vivacious mélange of aromatic lemongrass, red onion, fiery jalapeno, cilantro and finally, roasted peanuts, a delightful and unexpected note of salty crunch. Note the distinctly Thai accents: fish sauce, garlic chili paste and palm sugar. $6.45. 16605 County Road 24; 763.559.0695
The Caesar salad must be the most popular restaurant salad in the country; it seems like every establishment has one, no matter what kind of restaurant it is (well, maybe not a Chinese restaurant). At Broadway Pizza, the caesar is fairly standard: crisp romaine leaves with parmesan, croutons and dressing, which is creamy, redolent of parmesan cheese and sometimes anchovy (though not here). You could get anchovies if you want—it is a pizza joint, after all—but, being unpopular with the masses, the salty little fishies are usually excluded. The salad is served with garlic toasts, which probably makes the salad’s garlicky croutons, too. Add chicken for two bucks more. $7.49. 13705 27th Ave. N.; 763.551.0155
We must address the elephant in the room: despite the best marketing efforts, salad is not “diet food,” even though it is full of healthy vegetables. The issue is that it’s also full of other things that err on the side of, shall we say, delicious: meats and cheeses and nuts and the like. Let’s ignore calories for a moment: meats have lots of protein; nuts are full of heat-healthy monounsaturated fat; cheese has protein and calcium. It’s the simple panacea of pleasure that matters most; something so yummy for the tummy must benefit the soul too, and if it’s good for the soul, it only follows that it’s good for the body. Now that we’ve dispensed with that conundrum, go ahead and dig into the taco salad at El Azteca, a bubbly-textured, blooming shell of a flour tortilla brimming with beef, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, yellow cheese and sour cream; it’s a jumble of good stuff with a south-of-the-border bent and it definitely satisfies the soul. $8.39. 3500 Vicksburg Lane N.; 763.550.1570